on 1 July 2013
This excellent book seeks to combine the philosophical teachings of existentialism with the practice of coaching. As the authors suggest, Existential coaching "assumes that people often crave a sense of purpose and meaning" (p xvi) and may help clients to take stock of ways they make things more difficult and less satisfactory for themselves and reconsider how they want to live their lives. It "has an entirely pragmatic objective - to help people live their lives with greater deliberation, liberty understanding and passion" (p xvi). This book will appeal to all coaches who wish to work in a client-centred fashion - as Peltier states (p14) existential coaching does not treat clients as if they fit into a pre-established model and allows them to take charge of their own exploration.
Whilst the objective may be pragmatic, existential concepts are complex and the structure of the book and the way in which it is written do much to support the reader unfamiliar with them. I I particularly valued the way that the book looks back at the philosophical basis of existentialism, considering the work of people such as Kierkegaard, Sartre and Nietsche, helping the reader to understand the basis of this kind of work.
The first three chapters consider the underpinning values of existential coaching. Van Deurzen's opening chapter is an extremely helpful canter through the key concepts and offers a detailed explanation of how the coach can work constructively with paradox, contradiction and conflict. She suggests 11 detailed cornerstones of existential coaching, along with a substantial amount of other information; I was relieved to note that "too much theory is anathema to existential coaching" (p14)!
Mandic's chapter clearly delineates how the existential coach both models and fosters authenticity. He discusses how many coaching models emphasise "fixing" things, prioritising the epistemological (knowing how to, or what to do) over the ontological (how we are being), whilst existential coaching views both as essential, with the ontological approach necessarily preceding the epistemological (p22).
Hanaway's piece on paradox suggests that existential coaching is particularly well suited to working with the ultimate paradox between freedom and responsibility, which is perhaps especially marked in modern society (p33).
The next section of the book considers a range of contexts in which existential coaching can be effective, such as coaching leaders, career development and using "existential integrated coaching" in the workplace. I particularly enjoyed the use of case studies and the reiteration of the principles of existential coaching in a practical context. Le Bon and Arnaud's chapter on major life decisions was especially helpful in the illumination of existential coaching principles and techniques. I was also pleased to read Lewis' views on the importance of good supervision for the professional coach.
The largest part of the book was that dealing with bringing an existential approach to other coaching models and techniques, such as NLP, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural coaching. This part of the book was the least satisfactory in my opinion. Most of the chapters seemed to focus too much on the other techniques, rather than on existential coaching. The most successful chapter here was Nanda's on mindfulness and existential coaching; the two techniques have a natural affinity and I felt that this combination was relevant and enhanced my understanding in ways that the other sections of the third part of the book did not. That said there was much to appreciate here - again helpful use was made of case studies and all the chapters contained useful nuggets that will enhance my practice.
Overall I found this book an extremely useful and stimulating addition to my library. Much of the material is complex and I was glad that existential concepts were covered in several chapters; it may seem repetitive, but it helped to aid my understanding of this challenging subject. It also means that chapters can be used in isolation. The extensive use of case studies was also helpful to bring complicated concepts to life through real life examples.
Existential coaching is not a "you can be anything" philosophy (Pringle, p162) rather it helps clients to see things as they are; helping client to see, understand and comprehend reality in a new, more engaged and critical manner. Out of this understanding, changes will flow naturally, without having to be prescribed or suggested (p16). This book is an excellent introduction to this empowering way of working; I recommend it to any coach who wishes to develop her or his practice to support their clients to be more empowered.